The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

December 19, 2013

iPads in the classroom: Not a bust, but not yet a boon

LOS ANGELES — “D” is the letter of the day in Maria Martinez’s kindergarten class at Maywood Elementary. On a recent weekday, Martinez drew a capital and lower case “d” on the white board.

“Beautiful!” the children shouted. “Nice!”

They used their fingers to form a “D” on the wide writing lines that appeared on their iPad screens. The 5- and 6-year-olds in this largely poor and Hispanic school in southeast Los Angeles County already know how to navigate many educational apps loaded onto tablets, some 10 million of which are in classrooms across the U.S., according to Apple Inc.

“I can’t imagine teaching without iPads,” said Martinez, whose classroom provides a window into how technology is being used successfully to help children learn — even as the Los Angeles Unified School District attempts to salvage its botched attempt to distribute the pricey, high-tech devices. The district is the nation’s second largest after New York City.

Los Angeles Schools Superintendent John Deasy has called the intended $1 billion program to provide an iPad to every student in the district a civil rights imperative with potential to equalize access to technology. But the initiative, the largest of its kind, stumbled this fall during its first phase — a $30 million rollout to 47 schools — after some 300 high school students skirted the tablets’ security to surf social networking sites.

Under pressure, Deasy called for a delay of the rollout, which means all schools aren’t likely to get the devices until 2015, a year later than planned.

Mistakes made in Los Angeles are now being heeded nationally as a cautionary tale, with school districts halting technology rollouts until rules regarding the use of the devices are finalized and teachers get more training.

“If we take away the old textbook, and replace it with digital curriculum, there’s a transition that has to take place, and it doesn’t happen just because you hand out a device,” said Debbie Karcher, head of technology for Florida’s Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

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